PHOTO/CAPTAIN RICK GRASSET
Fly angler Jim Elwoldt, from St. Louis, Mo., caught
and released this Sarasota Bay "gator" trout
out of a pothole while wading a sandbar with Captain
By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer
Fly fishing is a sport that rewards the angler who carefully
considers his prey and pays attention to the conditions
and terrain that it inhabits.
For anglers who regularly fish the flats, potholes are
a prime area where every species of inshore fish can be
targeted. They provide an advantage to both the angler
and the fish that can be exploited to the angler's advantage.
Potholes are classically defined as clear sandy depressions
in grass flats that are devoid of vegetation. One thing
they all have in common is a recessed contour that attracts
both fish and the prey they feed on. In reality, potholes
contain cover to varying degrees. Most are a combination
of sand and grass. If you carefully examine them, you'll
find sand in the deepest section and grass on the borders.
Fish that take up station in these depress ions are often
found on the grass perimeter where they are less visible
to prey. Quite often, fish will wander between holes,
staying just inside the edges or seams. At other times
they can be seen right over the sand in the middle of
Not all potholes are created equal. Some will be almost
perfectly round and shallow, while others are oblong and
deep. Many of these depressions are man-made, but others
are created by tidal action or even scouring by boats.
Extreme low tides are excellent for scouting areas to
fish. When the bottom is exposed the topography can be
closely examined. Look for birds feeding on a flat with
potholes. The same food they're feeding on will attract
game fish when the flat is covered with water.
Potholes can be fished either from the boat or wading.
If the water is clear, fish on a shallow flat can be very
spooky. During the winter, gin clear water often necessitates
getting into the water for a more stealthy approach. When
fishing from a boat, a long accurate cast is a real asset.
There will be times when the wind is up and the water
is off color, and a cast of 40 feet or less will be all
that's required. More often than not, an accurate 60-foot
cast will be needed for any measure of success. When poling
a flat, both the angler and the guide must be as quiet
as possible. It's important to make sure the pole doesn't
hit the side of the boat and enters and exits the water
without making a splash. Pole extremely slowly in very
shallow water as fish are sensitive to the pressure wave
a boat pushes.
Many anglers are not aware, but simply moving your feet
on the platform can spook fish. Another mistake rookie
anglers make is rocking the boat with their casts. When
fish are spotted, take time to plan your attack and don't
let a high waving rod alert your prey to your presence.
Keep the rod low, and behind you so you can launch a quick
side arm cast. As you scan the flats and pot holes pay
attention to any movement on the periphery of your vision.
Fish that are stationed over grass on a pot hole may give
their presence away with only a shadow or subtle movement
of their mouth or fins.
When wading, a stealthy approach is equally as important.
Small flats with pot holes can be completely blown if
you motor too close, slam hatch lids, or toss an anchor.
Advance quietly, poling at least the last 100 yards to
the area you intend to fish. Stake out or anchor well
away from the action. Slip into the water and approach
pot holes slowly. Move too fast and your body will create
a pressure wave that the fish will sense. If the visibility
isn't great, or you're fishing early or late and can't
see fish, target the edges where grass and sand meet.
The edges' "seams" are perfect ambush spots
for the predators you're targeting. Start with presentations
about two feet outside the sandy area. Make sure you target
the deep grassy ends of the potholes. These areas can
be very productive and always warrant a couple of casts.
After working the edges of the holes and the seams, begin
casting into the sandy areas. Fan the hole with casts
to cover them completely and vary your retrieve. If a
quick strip doesn't produce, try slowing down and working
the fly close to the bottom.
When the water is clear enough for you to spot fish, they
will often be traveling between holes. When possible make
a cast into the fish's path with at least a five foot
lead and let the fly settle to the bottom. As the fish
approaches, "bump" the fly to imitate a baitfish
or crustacean that has been surprised and spooked by the
predator. Fish lying right over sand in a pot hole are
the hardest to make a presentation to. The cast must land
far enough away not to be noticed and stripped so the
fly doesn't approach the predator.
Match flies to whatever forage is most prevalent. Generally
speaking use smaller flies and fish them slower in the
winter. In the warmer months switch to a larger pattern
and work it a bit faster. Patterns with lead eyes like
Clousers are very effective in the winter. In the warmer
months try flies that mimic baitfish like the "Lefty's
Deceiver." Whether you're fishing from a boat or
wading make an effort to use the elements to your advantage.
Keep the sun at your back for the best visibility and
face the action. On an incoming tide fish will naturally
stage at the edges of a flat and move into the pot holes
and slues as the tide rises.
If the fish are hard to approach try stationing yourself
in an area where you have a good view of a pot hole or
series of holes. Stay off to the side in the grass where
you're less visible and keep a low profile. By staying
a long cast away, you can easily see the fish when they
enter a hole or pass across the white sand bottom. By
just waiting them out, you can target reds, trout and
snook as they wander the flat. It's important to be able
to land the fly line and the fly softly and don't rip
the line off the water for the next cast. Stand still,
be observant and make your casts low and slow. It takes
patience, but can be very productive.
In most cases there are few obstructions on a flat allowing
you to use a light six to eight weight outfit. Lines and
leaders can be varied according to the conditions. On
a shallow, clear flat use a floating line and a long leader.
A twelve foot leader with a thirty pound fluorocarbon
bite tippet is standard. If the fish are particularly
wary, drop down to a twenty or even fifteen pound bite
tippet. When fishing holes with deeper water, (six-eight
feet) switch to a 200 grain clear sink-tip fly line with
a ten foot leader.
Pot holes on a flat concentrate fish for fly anglers.
They provide cover for predators and a way for them to
enter and exit a flat. Learn to fish them according to
their unique topography, the time of the year, tides and
local conditions and they'll consistently provide action
to the savvy angler